Tag Archives: poetry

Give Me a Word

IMG_2256It’s happened the past three years at this same time.

I’ve discovered a centering, resonating, challenging word as a kind of companion for the coming year. And it happened again this morning. Thought I’d share.

Following the tradition of desert pilgrims, hundreds of my fellow Dancing Monks at Abbey of the Arts have been seeking their own words, too, with the question:

“What is your word for the year ahead? A word which contains within it a seed of invitation to cross a new threshold in your life?”

It’s a powerful moment when we put ourselves in a position of open-hearted vulnerability. In this case, it’s surrender to a piece of vocabulary, a part of speech. I’ve lost some of you by now, but some of you are curious as to what manner of weirdness this be.

In 2011, my word was Stretch.

2012: Empty.

2013: Salmon.

My word for 2014 arrived this morning: Turn.

Turn.

To commit a switch on or off,
to flip over a piece of grilling salmon.

Autumn maples.

Milk on its last day,
to repent and move again,
to reach for the corner of the page you’ve finished.

His face was set toward Jerusalem.

To respond to magnetic attraction,
to move a screw deeper,
to switch moments: is it mine or yours now?

To evolve in season.
To reorient.
To be romanced.

Turn.

What’s on your mind as 2013 closes up shop?

What hopes and fears are with you about 2014?

In which areas of your life are you excited and curious? Which ones carry anxiety?

If you want to try “Give Me a Word” yourself, Abbey of the Arts has a free 7-day mini-retreat that guides you through a contemplative process of discovering your word.

Here’s entering a new calendar year with hope. May you welcome all the goodness coming your way.


Thwart! and other benedictions

Well, it’s Springtime again. When a young man’s fancy turns to vocabulary.

This is just to say I’ve placed several new words in my “Favorite” column on the Word Game page.

For those of you unfamiliar with my brand of geekosity, this is an ongoing list of words I enjoy based purely on sound and feel, not on what they mean. It’s utterly subjective and is a ridiculous waste of time and energy unless you enjoy words as I do. 🙂

To me, it’s a practice of both anti-literalism and poetry.

So, you bibliophiles, I offer for your consideration:

Nigh – Say it soft, and it’s almost like praying.

Thwart – The power of a curse word in an unassuming package.

Hyperbole – If we’d had a daughter.

And two for the Least Favorite column:

Particularly – Listen to you. Back off, man.

Vegetable – Yeah, I see you. Do you need that many syllables?

Rebuttals and recommendations welcome.


The Dark Party

A decade ago, Trish and I gathered some of our favorite people on earth to our house. We invited them to wear dark clothes, bring dark-coloured food to share, and be prepared to share a real-life story of the past year.

It was our first Dark Party.

Though guests may have looked prepared for a goth rave, the occasion was Winter Solstice, one of our favorite moments of the year. It’s the longest night (or shortest day, if you like) of the year, when the sun hits our planet at 23° 26′, the steepest it’s gonna get.

And Winter officially begins.

If you’re like me, you have mixed feelings about the season’s turning.

I grew up in Minnesota, so the contrast of seasons is a vital experience for my soul. Boiling-hot and humid summers, butt-clenching cold winters, planting and harvest in between. Exhilarating!  On the other hand, winter calls me to pay careful attention to my mood, making sure I’m taking my anti-depressant, getting good light and getting exercise (snow shoveling often does the trick).

It is indeed a season of contrasts. My faith heritage celebrates Christmas as the breakthrough of God’s presence. Advent builds to it, Epiphany cools down from it. Most Christ-traditions welcome the light of the world as the highest festival day of the liturgical year. Excepting maybe Easter, depending on if your theology runs more incarnational or resurrectional.

Our first Dark Party came about because our friends and we had a damn rough year, and we wanted to recognize the gifts of the dark. Not desperately wait for the light, not avoid the dark, but to honor the rich stuff that happens when things are bleak, veiled and mysterious.

We sat in a circle and listened carefully to one another speak about the past year. There was a lot of rich silence. There were stories of cancer, divorce, exile, grief and wonder. There was weeping and some laughter, too. There was dancing. On this quiet night, we witnessed for one another the description of deep humanity with all its brokenness and hope-fullness.

At the end of our story-sharing, people were invited to light a candle. Some did, trusting that change was on their horizon; some did not, honoring the mystery of the present moment.

And there was food. (Did I mention the food?) Trish’s famous Edgar Allen Bean Dip, my “fear not the valley of the shadow ” fudge, big blackberries, pumpernickel bread… you get the picture. As a Lutheran, fellowship just can’t happen without a potluck.

Deep breath now.

That gathering remains one of the deepest, wonder-filled, most intimate, truly human and unforgettable moments of my life. As I bring up the faces of those who have joined us over the years, I am touched at the honesty and the open-hearted listening.

How is it with your soul here at the end of this year?

You may have had a hell of a year.

Maybe you have sadness, terror or deep grief. Maybe there are loose ends where resolution is unknown. What you may need is a kind of Dark Party, a moment to be in awe of your life, as crazy as it may be.

May I invite you to call someone to share your story? Or ask your friends to pray with you?  Or maybe solitude in darkness would be a true companion for you. Not because gloominess suits you, but because harmony can happen in shadows.

To close, a benediction for you from David Whyte:

Sweet Darkness
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb
tonight.
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
Our family celebrates Solstice because we are citizens of the planet. And because we desire honesty with and from our friends, especially when life is hard and a lot of our culture is about denial. (Lest you think me morbidly dismal, I also enjoy the celebration of light in its time.)
May you receive all the gifts of this season you can bear, whether they be excavated in the mystery of darkness or placed in your hand with the sunrise. Both are the realm of Holy.
And you are right in it.

Where Else Would God Be?

I heard him say, “The scandal of the Christian story is not that God became incarnate as a human. It’s that God is incarnate in every particle of creation. I mean… [dramatic pause] where else would God be?”

My Constructive Theology professor Dr. Eleazar Fernandez may never know how that woke me up.

“Where else would God be?”

The name Emmanuel means God With Us. The Incarnation we celebrate at Christmas is a recognition of God’s presence spun through creation. Now when church people talk about a particular day or season, it doesn’t mean it’s not real all the time. In this case, the Story of Christmas is that Holy breaks into our lives all the time, not just in late December.

But it’s good we have liturgical seasons to help us practice these kinds of things. Otherwise– for me, at least– all the rich bewilderment and awe of life would be hard to take in.

Most of us resist mystery to some extent. We gravitate toward literalism to help us bear the complexities of everyday life. Thank God for the artists, intuitives and mystics in our midst! If we’re not paying attention, our pet names for God tend to crystalize into an actual shape of God. Which most traditions call idolatry. (Sorry about that). In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis describes how the demons delight when their human patients come to revere an object representing the Holy-Beyond-Words instead of the Holy One.

A rich variety of language to describe the Divine Mystery primes our imagination for our own experience. Reminds us that G-d is greater than we can imagine, and will not be pigeon-holed. Poetry, art, music keeps us guessing, hungering, prying us away from literalism.

In the Biblical tradition, there are dozens of metaphors, images and models for G-d. Holding Scripture as revelation, we might notice the Holy One is likened to a Shepherd carefully guiding and protecting sheep. And also the breath and wind of the earth. A perfectly righteous judge. A nasty, crooked judge. Bread. Light. A wrestler who might take you down. A dread champion fighting for your life. A bird, a farmer, a song.

Jesus Christ!* There are tons of metaphors!  [*I enjoy a good non-blasphemous invocation, don’t you?]

It’s amazing to me that in all my years as a church-goer, I seldom have been invited into the wildly creative range we have access to.

I wonder why that is.

Sallie McFague suggests this model of God: the world.

Like a holy nest holding everything. Where nothing is left out and everything is sacred.

Take a moment to try that one on: G-d is the world, nothing more or less. A full incarnation here and now, nowhere where the Holy is not at work and at play.

– How would we treat the earth of we knew it to be Of God?

– How would we speak to one another if we considered each person a part of God’s very body?

– What if we knew God to have a full and universal presence, a continual and intimate influence?

– In this light, what would Christmas mean?

Fun to think about, huh? This brushes against what some theologians call Process Theology– God present in our seasons over time, God in the midst of change, God evolving and emerging as creation comes into our own.

Each icon has its limitations, but I offer you this one for this season of Advent when we know the Holy close. God in the manger. God in the cows. God within your wonderings and choices. God With Us here and now.

Where else would God be?

A song to celebrate and reflect:

The Body of God (click to listen with the lyrics)
From the CD Behold by The River’s Voice

i
God breaking through to our lives, but this is no great surprise
Babies and barns, green fields and farms
This is the body of God

A star in the dark sky we share, straw underfoot as we look up and stare
Each part of creation a perfect formation that lives as the body of God

Where else would God be but right here?
Inwithandthrough all we sense and we feel
God in the manger, God in the cows, God in the innkeeper’s mother’s eyebrows

ii
Sure was a marvelous night, the story of birth and new life
And the dreams and the fears of the new parents’ prayers were felt in the body of God

Just one more beautiful way God’s body blooms its array
Our Christmas story: one image of glory as we move in the body of God

Where else would God be but right here?
Transcendent and cosmic and at home in our tears
God in the common, God in the strange, God in Jesus’ very first diaper change

iii
These are unsettling times, and as I put my son down for the night
I can’t help but think how much kinder we’d be if we knew all of life, the world’s every plight
To be part of the body of God

Where else would God be but right here?
Under our noses and in the midst of our fears
God in our stories, God in the world, God in the pain and the Good News we’ve heard


When Your Theology Changes

I am circling around God, around the ancient tower
and I have been circling for a thousand years,
and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm,
or a great song.

-Rainer Maria Rilke

Carl Jung wrote that a Circle is an archetype for wholeness or God. We are always drawn toward it, June Singer said, yet “to fly straight into it would be like a moth darting into a flame.”

I guess, like Moses, we don’t look directly at the Holy. We circle around. We admire its posterior, its profile, its moving shadow.

At seminary I heard all theology is autobiography. True, I think. If we’re paying attention, all our life experiences are naturally integrated into a Story of what’s holding them together. We come up with integral symbols, signs and words that help us make sense of it all: theology. God-talk. The witness of Scripture is that. We’re designed to do that, too.

We are God-seeking, tower-circling, hungry-by-design, circumnavigating-Life-by-instinct creatures.

You’re a falcon circling.
When Rilke describes circling around the Tower, it’s what all of us are always doing.

Whatever language and symbols you have going right now for the Holy One, it hasn’t always been this way. Your autobiography has grown with your years on the planet, and your theology has developed with you. Each time you’ve crystalized a personal belief, it’s been merely a stepping stone of long-haul enlightenment.

In other words, your theology has evolved.

You’re a storm circling.
Like a scientist in the lab, when something interesting happens, our definitions are disrupted and our Story of God grows beyond its previous borders. Bill Moyers’ Genesis: A Living Conversation project suggested the narrative of the Older Testament is really the Story of God evolving in the human experience. Your story is a kind of scripture, too. Everyone’s is.

We know change happens, yet when seasons of transformation dawn, we pretend to be surprised. As if life is supposed to be stagnant and smooth, and moments of transition are really messing it all up. Humans are funny.

Pete Seeger said we can’t know the whole Truth. We can only circle round the gorse-berry bush hearing the rabbit, pointing and saying, “It’s in there somewhere.” Observe a sculpture with three trusted friends at the compass points, and you have access to four different views, all true, all different. The community, friends, church, sanga, is a vital thing in your God-Story evolving.

Paul Tillich said the word “God” is so old and tired, it should be banished from our vocabulary for about a thousand years. Then that word might begin to mean something again. We outgrow language sometimes.

When you come to a place where old words don’t work anymore, tell someone. Because that’s the Christ story unfolding: death and resurrection, and old wineskins breaking. When a season of questioning moves through, share that story of Christ emerging. Don’t circle alone, at least not for long. Your story– everyone’s story– is something we need to hear. I’ve been part of some communities over the years where seasons of deep questioning are avoided as a failure of faith. I’ve been part of others that treat these seasons as holy moments where faith is growing. I hope you have a sense of being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses where your Story of God is welcomed, honored and treated as revelation. After all, didn’t he say something about being born again? And again?

You’re a song circling.
Who are you? After a thousand years, maybe we can say with Rilke, “I still don’t know.” Maybe the point of a creative, juicy life is to lose track of ourselves and know ourselves to be In Holy Process. We think we know what the point is; we think it’s all about the tower. But what about the circumnavigated path you’ve worn? Your favorite beverage on the journey? The weather lo these many years of orbiting? The company and the conversations? These are all parts of a spiritual life. The experiences of a true Christ life cannot always be neatly filed.

To conclude, let’s stretch the metaphor with Rilke:

You are circling ’round the One Holy Tower– a falcon, a storm, a song.

You’re a lover dancing round your Beloved.

You’re a storyteller wondering about the twist at the end,
a hawk patrolling her valley,
a youngster on the playground with one end of the  jumprope, whirling, whirling with your friend.

You’re an explorer of God downloading continuously to a universal core.

When your theology is changing, you are in the midst of a Holy Endeavor.


What’s Required of You

This is about what you have to do.

Or, more truly, what you think you have to do.

One of my favorite Mary Oliver poems releases a transparent gas. Inhale. The potent but odorless fumes contain a higher-than-normal oxygen content allowing our bodies- including our brains- to perk up. Good writing does this. Don’t be alarmed if, upon taking in good poetry, you sense new possibilities for your life. You may experience resistance and even discomfort to these possibilities. You may need to lie down for awhile. You may giggle. You may need to call someone.

But first: How do you feel today about your presence in the world? It’s an ancient question, so we’re in good and holy company when it rises to us: “What is my place?”

May the wondering polish your sense of vocation, giving focus and renewal.

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Let the poem have it’s way with you today as you adjust your breathing.

If there is something we (this little blogging community) can witness with you, I invite you to offer a comment. Sharing our stories can help everyone. Thanks!

  • Enjoy Storyhill‘s amazing song about you, Steady On: